Handmaker – A Tradition of Caring Since 1963

By Sheryl Kornman

In November, Handmaker celebrates half a century of providing respectful, responsible and medically appropriate care to Southern Arizona’s seniors in the region’s only nursing home and assisted living facility with a kosher kitchen.“We create a positive life experience for families and offer solutions,” said Handmaker Development Director Howard Paley.

He said Handmaker is the only faith-based nonsectarian facility in Tucson that does not force residents to move out once their own funds are exhausted. The cost of their care is borne by donations, Social Security and Medicare benefits, and contributions to the Handmaker Foundation in the form of a Working Poor Tax credit.

“Handmaker’s mission, in part, involves setting right what is wrong in the world,” said Handmaker CEO Arthur L. Martin.

“Many organizations that provide high-quality care no longer want their residents when their financial resources run out. Handmaker is a people-driven organization – not a profit-driven organization – and can retain its residents even after their financial resources are expended,” he said, with support from the community.

Times have indeed changed since Handmaker broke ground.

Many more residents are living beyond their long-term care benefits and private assets, Paley said. “Today, about 30 percent of the population can’t afford the care they need (at Handmaker). They simply have too much life left over at the end of their money.”

The facilities, at 2221 N. Rosemont Blvd., encompass 10 acres with a physical plant of 154,000 square feet.

Today Handmaker is much more than a nursing home. It still doesn’t serve pork or mix milk and meat products, but it provides healthy meals to individuals who receive care in the 16 post-hospital rehabilitation beds, 42 skilled nursing beds, 16 secure-living apartments, 39 advanced assisted living apartments, 54 assisted living apartments and 12 independent living apartments.

The post-hospital rehab beds will see 1,000 patients in 2013, Paley said. This service “is especially gratifying,” for example, when someone comes in after hip surgery for rehab and “gets their life back.” He added that these grateful patients could become a resource for the Handmaker Endowment.

In August 2013, Handmaker broke ground at the Rosemont campus for the region’s first geriatric psychiatric center. The $4.5 million, two-story Kalmanovitz Elder-Care Center will provide medical stabilization for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients and long-term care for those with confusion.

The project was funded in part by the Paul and Lydia Kalmanovitz Foundation of San Francisco, which gave Handmaker a $3 million grant for the new facilities. The remaining $1.5 million was raised from the community, Paley said.

Handmaker will own the new building and offer 20 skilled-nursing beds for those with dementia. TMC will operate the second floor as a specialty hospital for seniors with mental health issues. The facilities are expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2014. The architect is CDG Architects and W.E. O’Neil is the construction company.

Now known simply as Handmaker, the facility today follows Jewish dietary laws under the supervision of Rabbi Robert Eisen of Congregation Anshei Israel. And it continues to honors tenets of Jewish life – honor thy mother and thy father, and heal the world.

“We don’t allow non-kosher products into the building. It costs more to do this – but we do it so the Jewish community always feels their loved ones are welcome here, too. We never want to lose that connection.”

“Today our goal is to honor the past and imagine the future,” said Paley.

Handmaker’s dedication to excellence helps assure its success. This summer it received a 5-Star rating from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Medicare and Medicaid Divison. In May 2012, CEO Martin received a Facility Leadership Award from the American College of Health Care Administrators.

Martin is a registered nurse with master’s degrees from the University of Arizona in public health and business administration. He worked for a Fortune 500 senior living company, then served as a skilled-nursing inspection specialist for the Arizona Department of Health Services. His academic background prepared him to oversee Handmaker’s future as it continues to adapt to the growing demand for service from seniors in their 70s, 80s and 90s.

Many who come to Handmaker these days have lived longer on their own than past generations – and some are more debilitated by the time they move into its facilities, which are organized by “neighborhoods,” according to the level of need for assistance and skilled nursing care, Paley said.

Handmaker was built on land donated by civil engineer and local builder Charles Wilson, who died at 89 in 2010, having spent his last weeks at the nursing facility he helped create.

Construction began 50 years ago through the generosity of I. H. “Murf” Handmaker, a businessman and the first U.S.-born child in his large Russian-immigrant family.

Many thousands of lives have been touched through the years by the quality care, kindness and professionalism of Handmaker’s staff and administrators, plus its board of directors and board presidents, who have represented Tucson’s top-tier medical, legal and business professionals.

“Decisions made in the past and for the future are the vision of a lot of people – including all the previous Handmaker board presidents,” Paley said. “Through its capital campaigns, Handmaker has come to be what it is today.”

Under Handmaker’s business model, Paley said, new residents must have the resources to pay for services for three years. “We help them navigate that and understand what their options are. We are careful on admission so we aren’t intentionally bankrupting Handmaker,” he said. “We very rarely turn people away.”

Handmaker’s skilled nursing beds are “substantially occupied most of the time,” Paley said. Residents who need hospice care are referred to hospice care providers.

Today’s Handmaker offers Jewish, Catholic and Protestant religious services.

In the 1990s, it added tai chi to its activity calendar and today offers a range of enrichment and physical activities to provide satisfaction and meaning to the lives of its residents.

Handmaker offers a program for elderly non-Handmaker residents with weekday activities and lunch, as well as a day program for the elderly developmentally disabled. And its one-day a week Adventure Bus serves a handful of elders who have mild cognitive challenges, giving a respite to caregivers. The bus visits cultural and educational sites around Tucson and also serves lunch themed to that day’s activities.

Handmaker also diversified services offered. It hired a pastry chef and now does wedding and birthday cakes and offers off-site and onsite catering from the kosher kitchen for business and family events. It prepares trays of food for families after a death for the meal of condolence. And it rents its state-of-the-art digital Great Room for corporate, religious or other special events.

Handmaker is a beneficiary of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and is affiliated with Jewish Family and Children’s Services, Pima Council on Aging and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It also works with funding from the Arizona Long Term Care System, Evercare and Mercy Care.

An employee fund recognizes the hard work of its dedicated staff. Donations may be made to that fund in the name of an employee or a department to provide additional support for Handmaker staff.

Paley said Handmaker is now focusing on growing its endowment fund.

“The cost of care is increasing. The future is changing and the economic basis under which nursing homes operate is changing. The endowment fund will help us to create the extra money we need to provide quality care and create a lasting legacy that will provide for future residents in perpetuity.”

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